The diesel-engine version of the Jeep Wrangler has finally arrived. We headed to Utah to take the 2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel for a first drive
Springdale, Utah — The history of the Jeep Wrangler in North America is long and it’s rich, but nowhere in it will you find mention of the word diesel. That seems inconceivable, and yet it’s true. But that’s finally changing. For 2020, the story of the Wrangler gets a new chapter with the introduction of a diesel-powered variant.
This new version is significant, for at least two reasons. For one, the introduction of a diesel engine version at the start of a decade everyone agrees will belong to the electric vehicle is a bold manoeuvre by the automaker, to say the least.
That said, when it comes to a product like the Wrangler, this is less counter-intuitive than it might appear. While in most cases today’s diesel variants no longer deliver such major gains in terms of fuel consumption over their gasoline-powered equivalents as in the past, in the case of this Jeep the gains really are impressive – on the order of 30% to 35%.
There’s a second big reason why this move by Jeep is notable: fans of the models have been screaming for a diesel-powered version.
Now that the automaker has taken the leap, we get to play with the new Wrangler EcoDiesel and see whether it delivers on the expectations.
A quick word on the product offering. The diesel engine will only be available with the Wrangler Unlimited model, or the one with four doors. On the other hand, all three versions of that model – the Sport, Sahara and Rubicon – will have it on the menu.
Why, you ask? Because 80% of the Wranglers Jeep sells have four doors. Where there’s demand, there will logically be supply. Especially as it’s more cost effective for Jeep to tailor its offering this way.
Pricing for the model in Canada is $43,495 for the Sport; that climbs to $47,495 for the Sahara, and to $51,245 for the Rubicon.
In comparison with the Wrangler with 3.6L V6, the EcoDiesel version will thus cost buyers an extra $7,395.
All of the diesel models get the Wrangler’s 8-speed automatic transmission, which itself costs buyers an added $1,795.
The engine bloc
If you’re reading this you’re probably already familiar with the Jeep Wrangler, and at least somewhat aware of the model’s capabilities. More on that in a bit. The aim of our trek down to the southwestern United States was specifically to meet the new diesel engine as it will serve the model.
The unit itself is already well-known, as it’s the company’s existing 3.0L V6 turbo engine, but it hasn’t simply been plopped down into the Wrangler as is, in fact 80% of the components were revised. We’re talking about an essentially new engine - the third generation of the EcoDiesel motor, if you will.
There are also changes in the calibration to make the unit work optimally with the vehicle itself. A full explanation of the adjustments could go to novel lengths, but here are some notable points.
The transmission has a new configuration that takes into account the needs of the vehicle at low RPM and the off-road uses it will be put to, while the turbocharger is of a new generation. The exhaust system has been updated with the addition of a component that enable low-pressure circulation of gases that have already passed through the particle filter, which reduces the amount of energy lost and thus improves fuel economy.
Other examples include redesigned aluminum-alloy pistons and fuel injector nozzles. The compression ratio has changed from 16.0:1 to 16.5:1 to improve fuel economy and redcue engine noise.
A lot of sweat and toil on the part of the model’s designers, in other words.
One number stands out
All of those changes, while significant, are invisible to the buyer of the new Wrangler EcoDiesel, of course.
What is very visible, however, is a number that will jump out at potential buyers on the spec sheet: 442. That represents the maximum torque available from the powertrain, along with 260 hp. The latter figure is fine and all, but the truly impressive stat is that torque. And when you drive the model, you notice it, and it’s frankly impressive. We’re used to the Wrangler working quite hard when the pedal hits the metal, but here it leaps ahead like a rabbit with a fox in pursuit.
It’s a cliché that most SUV owners never take their ride anywhere near a true off-road track, and it’s just as much a cliché that Wrangler owners don’t hesitate to do so – but it’s a cliché based in fact. The muddier they can get their Wrangler the better.
With the diesel engine under the hood, the off-roading experience takes on a whole new dimension – all because of that astounding torque. We already know what the Wrangler can do; it can climb very steep escarpments, handle abrupt drops, pass over boulders as if they were little pebbles, etc. But with 442 lb-ft of torque available from 1,400 RPM, all of those things become mere child’s play.
At one point on the off-road trail we were on, we came face to face with an enormous boulder. Climbing it, all you could see from the driver’s seat was sky. The Wrangler proceeded with almost casual boredom. I’ve done this kind of thing in gasoline-powered models, and I can tell you that all that torque made a huge difference.
This new capability doesn’t mean the vehicle can go places it couldn’t before, but it does mean it overcomes obstacles with greater ease.
The anticipation was high, and now the wait for the 2020 Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel is over. In terms of the vehicle’s performance, it’s a truly compelling marriage. But the fly in the ointment is the pricing. When you factor in the taxes it will cost you an extra $8,000 for the right to go over to the Dark Side that is the diesel engine in 2020.
In return, the improvement in terms of fuel consumption is substantial. Official figures are not yet available, but Jeep estimates a gain of between 30% and 35% in comparison with the 3.6L V6 engine. Realistically, we expect the figures to land somewhere around 7.5L/100 km combined, which is far better than the 12.0-12.5L/100 km you’ll get from the gasoline-engine Wrangler.
An improvement of 5 to 5 litres per 100 km driven is nothing to be sneezed at, but when you consider the added pound of flesh Jeep is exacting to get the diesel engine, it’s a calculation each consumer will have to make on their own.
Which means it comes down to a question of costs, of taste and of priorities.
Unique driving experience, still
Undeniable off-road capabilities
We like less
Hefty difference in price between the regular and diesel-powered variants
Driving position makes having a clear view of the instrument panel difficult
Sound insulation is still not a strong suit of this model
For the moment, none…